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Erin Burnett Outfront

Ukrainian President: "This Night Will Be Very Difficult;" Curfew In Effect Across Ukraine As Russia Intensifies Assault; Sen. Mike Rounds (R-SD) Discusses About The Situation Of Ukraine Under The Assault Of Russia; CNN Visits Site Of Some Of Fiercest Ukraine-Russia Fighting; Ukraine: Heavy Fighting Underway Near Kyiv. Aired 7-8p ET

Aired February 25, 2022 - 19:00   ET


WOLF BLITZER, CNN HOST: That's from 5 pm to 7 pm Eastern tomorrow. In the meantime, thanks for watching.

Erin Burnett OUTFRONT live from Ukraine starts right now.

ERIN BURNETT, CNN HOST: Good evening. I'm Erin Burnett live in Ukraine.

OUTFRONT tonight the breaking news, "They will assault tonight," those are the words of President Zelensky as cities across this country are under curfew, including where we are tonight. The streets deserted. The people scared. We saw it today when we had to go to a bomb shelter when one of several air raid sirens went off here.

But in these darkest hours of the night now, President Zelensky posted a video warning Ukrainians that the fate of their country is being decided in these next few hours. That message was echoed by the Mayor of Kyiv where tonight air raid sirens can be heard echoing through the night sky in a city that is under assault.

People trying to board trains to get out. Kyiv seems about to fall. The dire situation causing NATO for the first time in its history to activate its response force, a unit of roughly 40,000 troops who are ready to go to protect a NATO ally. And tonight, Putin plows ahead, Russia claiming that it is taken out 211 military infrastructure facilities across this entire country.

I just want to make that number clear, 211 across the entire country. Remember what Antony Blinken said, missiles would come down across Ukraine, he was right. We all heard them here; the rockets, the missiles, the explosions that changed things here forever.

And tonight, Putin is putting innocent people in his crosshairs, including 92 plant employees in the Chernobyl nuclear sites holding them hostage as that disturbing situation continues to develop. And an official telling CNN that Russia plans to threaten killing the family members of Ukrainian soldiers if they do not surrender.

But as we have seen in the face of these threats, people here are proud to put their lives on the line and serve. They are not backing down. You can see people lining up as firearms were being distributed in Kyiv today, 18,000 of them and reservists showing up to fight and we've met plenty of them over these past two weeks. Thirty-year-old Andriy taking a bus from his small town with his veteran friends to answer their call of reserve duty.


ANDRIY MARTYNIV, UKRAINIAN ARMY RESERVIST: I guess we will win. We will win, the Russian. We'll destroy it, the Russian in our territory.


BURNETT: Andriy was not talking with bravado because he's been in war before, he's fought in the east. He's seen the suffering and he knows it is an awful thing.


BURNETT: Are you at all afraid?

MARTYNIV: Yes. All people are afraid, only stupid people are not afraid.


BURNETT: Only stupid people are not afraid. The young man we've met here are willing to fight here knowing that the enemy is powerful, knowing that it has seemingly limitless resources. They are still willing to stay and they're willing to lose what they treasure above all.


BURNETT: Do you have children or a family?

MARTYNIV: I have a little boy, two years old (inaudible) and tough. Yes. A little boy.

BURNETT: Was it hard to leave him?

MARTYNIV: Yes. Yes, but I must. It's my duty. It's my duty.


BURNETT: It was an emotional moment for me. A parent knows to know two - no, two and a half, just that difference mattering so much and yet he is willing to go and he's willing to die. We have a team coverage tonight with Matthew Chance, Nick Paton Walsh and Sam Kiley all across this country.

Begin tonight with Matthew Chance in Kyiv, that city under siege, where the President says in these next few hours this could be the fate of Kyiv, the capital of this country. Matthew, when you hear those dire warnings from President Zelensky, you have been all over that city, you have been to bases that have gone to Russian control, what are you seeing? What are you hearing where you are tonight?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, we're hearing periodically loud explosions taking place, some distance away in this general direction over here behind me. That's the north and the northeast. And, of course, that is the location where we know there are concentrations Russian military forces on the outskirts of the city just maybe six miles away in the suburb of Arborlon.


We have a large force of Russians with tanks and armored personnel carriers and things like that and troops that are positioned to enter the city. They've been further, they've been confronted, of course, by Ukrainian forces who are trying to defend the city. Then further round to the north over there, there's that Antonov airbase that I visited yesterday and met face-to-face with the Russian special forces that had taken control of that entire area.

The big concern now, of course, is that those forces will combine. There'll be reinforced. They'll encircle the city and they will advance into it. That's what the call is from Ukrainian officials, from President Zelensky to the Mayor of Kyiv that this is going to be potentially a very, very difficult night for the people or whatever is left of the people, that bang just echoing across the city just a second ago as well.

I can just reiterate what I was just saying, there is fighting underway on the outskirts of Kyiv right now. Inside the city, defenses have been made to defend the city. The bridges are being guarded by military forces from Ukraine, transportation networks, things like that, key installations, they're all being guarded.

Weapons have been distributed to the population, anybody who wants to defend the city, they're being called upon and helped to do so. They're encouraged use Molotov cocktails, petrol bombs and being issued with rifles and guns and other kinds of weaponry as well. And you can hear those explosions, whether it's artillery fire or tank fire or air strikes, it's not clear to us from this distance.

But clearly there is a lot of fighting underway on the outskirts of Kyiv. And the expectation is, Erin, very quickly is that that may now intensify dramatically as Russian forces close in on the Ukrainian capital.

BURNETT: Right. I know this, obviously, could happen here over the next hours here, into these early hours of the morning. Matthew Chance, we're going to check back in with you later this hour. Please be careful. Take care of yourself, as everyone can see how dynamic that situation is right now as some of this fiercest fighting happens in these very early hours of the morning here.

I want to go now to Republican Senator Mike Rounds. He sits on both the Senate Armed Services and the Foreign Relations Committee and has been briefed regularly throughout the crisis. Senator, I really appreciate your time.

I want to start with you where we are right now where Matthew Chance is literally standing, but editorially here, what's going on in Kyiv, the siege, the Russian forces right outside the city lined up these next hours President Zelensky saying could be the assault this night will be very difficult is exactly what he said. Do you believe that he is right that we are now in these hours where we see the fate of the capital?

SEN. MIKE ROUNDS (R-SD): This would be consistent with the reports that we've received for the last several weeks. The indication was it would take several days for the very large Russian army to overtake and basically get into Kyiv along with some of the other major cities. It doesn't mean that the fighting would be over, but it does mean that they would have in hand or at least they wouldn't be able to get into the capital city, which is not a good sign.

We'd been warned that that could happen fairly quickly just because of the size of the Russian force. What I don't think people knew for sure was how much of a resistance our Ukrainian allies or friends would put up. And it appears right now that they are doing everything they can to defend their homeland.

BURNETT: They are and we've seen here, Senator, you heard Matthew talking about the 18,000 guns given away in Kyiv, to anybody who wanted to fight on the streets, the Molotov cocktails. I have met here so many young men, some of them spent a lot of time shooting. They all have guns. There's no limit on the number of guns you can have here. They all plan to fight in an insurgency.

I don't know if you just heard the man I met today, a reservist, he showed up, said he's going to destroy the Russians in his country. But I've also, Senator, met people with no training or just getting limited training and suddenly they're being trained in bazookas. They're being trained in mines. They're being trained in Molotov cocktails. Everybody has a willingness to fight and it is unbelievable when you see that passion. Have you been surprised by the Ukrainian military and the Ukrainian people and their willingness to fight, to physically fight with deadly weapons in these past few days?

ROUNDS: No. Look, what they're experiencing right now is their own 9/11. You remember the feeling in America when we were attacked by terrorists. Now you have a cold calculating killer on their border and threatening themselves, threatening their government threatening their children, their relatives.


They have no choice but to stand and fight.

Look, what we need to do, though, and where we can make a difference is we can begin our programs of continued defensive weapons, offensive weapons. We can provide a lend/lease program. Look, we're not talking right now about sending in our troops into Ukraine, because we don't have a legal authorization to do so. But we can most certainly provide them with lethal weapons to help defend themselves.

I think the American people understand freedom, and they understand what it means to defend your country.

BURNETT: Yes. ROUNDS: That's something that we all have in common with Ukrainians.

BURNETT: Yes, indeed. And let me ask you one quick follow up to that that I think is very important now. Obviously, it's clear there'll be no U.S. troops on the ground in Ukraine. That would be a direct war between two nuclear superpowers. But when you talk about providing offensive weapons at this point in the process or do you have any fear that that could also provoke a direct attack from Russia and perhaps a very much bigger and more horrific war than the one we're seeing now?

ROUNDS: Right now, with the attitude that Vladimir Putin has been putting forward, anything is possible. He clearly has been cold and calculating. And he clearly feels that in that geographic region, he has the upper hand. I think he's going to be surprised at the amount of resistance, but I think he's also going to be surprised at the solidarity that members of NATO are going to express and other members of the Soviet or other members of the European Union are going to express.


ROUNDS: And look, what we can do right now is to express as strongly as we can our support. But even more than that, unilaterally, there are some things that we can do to limit his ability to wage war. We should be creating as much energy in this country as we possibly can. Natural gas should be not only created but we should be exporting it as quickly as possible. Same thing with petroleum products, we have to get Europe out from underneath the control of Vladimir Putin and right now, that means taking away the gas station, which is Russia.

BURNETT: Right. Absolutely. Thank you very much, Senator, I appreciate your time.

And now I want to go to retired U.S. Army Major General James "Spider" Marks at the magic wall and Seth Jones, Director of the International Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

So General, let me start with you, looking at the map in this moment here and we are literally in these crucial hours of the morning. I mean, obviously it's the night in the United States as well, but it's two o'clock in the morning here and that is really just as these assaults have begun for these past several nights as this war is being waged.

Tonight, it is Kyiv in the crosshairs. The president says that these next few hours could decide the fate of the capital. How much danger is Kyiv in, what are you looking at?

JAMES MARKS, CNN MILITARY ANALYST: Well, it's in tremendous danger as already has been reported. And I have to tell you, all those available sources of commercial intelligence, as well as CNN contributors on the ground and correspondents on the ground is quite phenomenal, so we're getting a pretty good sense of what all that looks like.

What's important to realize is that these forces that are in the direction of Kyiv, as Matthew Chance has already pointed out, I've really put a marker on the ground at Antonov airfield, which is just the northwest of Kyiv. That's the largest city in the country. And then you have Kharkiv, Dnipro and Odesa or one, two and three, three and four in terms of the size.

So what's significant is Putin has defined that correctly as the center of gravity, everything hinges on the control of Kyiv and how he can influence activities in Kyiv. There's more to the story. I'll get to that in a second. But also, what's key here is, if they can get to Kharkiv, they've already gotten some forces into Odesa, but this control of Dnipro is important because you now have the ability to choose least control activity that's taking place along the Dnieper River.

We haven't had much discussion about that, but that's important to the next step. But let me move to Kyiv up close. What's really important, as described is the activity that's there that's been contested. But when they own that, they now can begin to bring forces, additional forces in and they can bring forces down into Kyiv.

What needs to happen, again, let me highlight this, you take the Dnieper River through the middle of Kyiv. Now what needs to happen is the Ukrainians need to start cutting the bridges across so that if you get Russian forces on one side and Russia's forces on the other, they can't support each other and the advantage goes to the defender at that point.

BURNETT: Wow. I mean, it's amazing when you look at that, just the importance. When you think about where we are and all the modern technology we have, the power of a river, like so many parts of this story, it has reminded us of just these images from the past, from war so long ago now so relevant again tonight.


Seth, you've been looking at all these images, all of the satellite images, all of the data, how would you describe what you are seeing right now in Kyiv?

SETH JONES, DIRECTOR, INTL. SECURITY PROGRAM AT CENTER FOR STRATEGIC & INTERNATIONAL STUDIES: Well, I think it's very clear at this point that the political objective right now by Vladimir Putin is to overthrow the Ukrainian government. That's why his forces are in Kyiv and that's his objective in that sense.

I think what will be very concerning is the more resistance that Russian forces face by a combination of both entrenched Ukrainian military conventional forces and if there's essentially neighborhood resistance from the kinds of people, Erin, that you described, the concern I have is watching Russian forces in Grozny and Chechnya, as well as Russian operations in Syrian cities like Aleppo, they will then turn to level those cities. Those cities turned into rubble as part of Russian combat operations.

So we could see really the beginning of the partial destruction of Kyiv, if this gets intense. BURNETT: Which is, again, something that would be unfathomable and

comprehensible and now we really can't use those words to describe anything that might happen here. So Gen. Marks, if Russia does take control of Kyiv, which at this point seems inevitable, barring some sort of a miracle, because they simply just have a lot more power, what happens next then?

MARKS: Yes. What's important coming out of Kyiv and then looking at the larger map, the key thing is, as Seth has described, is they want to maintain control here. And by positioning forces around the city, they then can begin to move in, obviously, and start to take control. Clearly, again, as Seth described, the Russians are not known for precision targeting. This will be blanket type of firing, lots of dumb weapon systems, just breaking a lot of things.

There are no rules of engagement or collateral damage assessments that their commanders go through. So this could be incredibly ghastly. And then you would expect that the same thing would happen in these other locations. What's key overall, is they want to control that, they need to control this second largest city, and then they have to be able to ensure that nothing from the Black Sea that would contest their naval presence would come in.

But the last place NATO wants to put naval forces in the Black Sea. The Black Sea is just a big bathtub. But it could happen. The Russian forces that are down here could be pinned in, but that's a really delicate operation. It might be able to be done from the mid and then flying in some air attack against those platforms.

BURNETT: Seth, your concern is that even if Kyiv falls, that could just be the beginning, but that could be very bad for Russia. Tell me what you mean.

JONES: Well, I think the issue and look at, the U.S. discovered this in both Afghanistan and Iraq, it's one thing to overthrow the regimes both the Saddam Hussein regime as well as the Taliban regime in 2001. But it's a very different thing to hold territory. So I mean, I think as you've seen in areas that you're in right now, Erin, the problem that the Russians may very well face is even if they overthrow or try to overthrow the government or at least start to control urban terrain, the way spiders just described, they could very well faced significant resistance as the war turns from a conventional one where we are right now and turns into an essentially guerrilla campaign.

And in that sense, the Russians do not have a lot of experience in ground warfare recently. And so it will put them in extreme danger and then we'll start getting complaints. Putin will start getting complaints from the mothers of Russian soldiers.

BURNETT: Yes. Well, I can tell you, many kids today are 18, just this baby face here, college kid, ready to have a gun, ready to stay and fight on the streets. I mean, if even some small percentage of the people who say they're prepared to do and do it, this will be horrific and bloody for so many. It's just awful. Thank you both.

And next, our breaking news continues. We're going to take you live to southern Ukraine, big developments there, some of the fiercest fighting that has been taking place and perhaps a very significant change of control tonight, so we're going to go there live. Plus we're going to go to a small town attacked by Russia. What you will see is sobering. People crammed into small hotels, way more than should be in there just trying to stay safe.

And Putin railing against the Ukrainian government tonight, calling officials here Neo-Nazis and drug addicts. What does this say about his mind, his actual sanity?


Breaking news, President Volodymyr Zelensky accusing Russian forces of attacking kindergartens and destroying civilian sites, despite Vladimir Putin saying that civilian infrastructure wouldn't be targeted. Zelensky adding that many cities in Ukraine are currently under attack and that we can verify is true because our reporters are seeing it.

Nick Paton Walsh is OUTFRONT in Kherson in southern Ukraine. Nick, you have seen fierce fighting. You have watched this battle over this bridge go one way or the other and I believe now it seems that there is a bit more of a definitive outcome. Tell me what you're seeing. Is that the case or now?

NICK PATON WALSH, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: No. I mean, we are in the same place as we were last night. But it does seem as though the fight is certainly quieting down. Last night, we saw that the Russians had taken this key bridge running from Crimea controlled by them since 2014 and heading up across the main Dnieper River towards Kyiv.

We saw the Ukrainians take it back this morning and then we think we heard the final outcome of a really heavy Russian onslaught at dusk today. But I'm standing in this town of Kherson, deathly quiet now and what we're deeply concern, frankly, is whether or not the Russians are going past them onto bigger strategic goals or have an interest of moving in the dock right now. Here's what we saw over the last couple of days.


WALSH (voice over): For a moment, this was a bridge too far for Vladimir Putin.


As we arrived in the town of Kherson just before dusk on Thursday, the fighting had crossed over to our side of the river, meaning Russian tanks were in the sleepy streets. But the night brought no rest. Jets flying low, terrifying locals, airstrikes.

Here, a mother's bedtime duty is to switch out the lights. Not to calm her kids, but to protect them from the Kremlin's jets overhead. To boys are noisy, but the girls are quiet. "It's safer here than on the street," says Lana (ph). Ruslan (ph)

jumps in, "They'll kill us all," he says. Moscow's games scar here. "I did hear blasts, but I was not afraid. I had a tank," he says.

But by dawn, it was a case of the Russians are coming, but also maybe not. Ukrainian forces had reclaimed the bridge, but not without a cost. I asked Viktor if the Russians would move back.


VIKTOR, UKRAINIAN SOLDIER: Yes. Russian not far away. Russians about 3,000 meters.


WALSH (voice over): Locals picked through the wreckage for ammunition.


WALSH (on camera): It's strange to see civilians picking up leftover armor from vehicles here. It shows you how many people are involved now on a local level in this war. He's doing it again. They're just stopping everywhere to pick up whatever they can.


WALSH (voice over): It's unclear if the bodies here were discarded because they were Russians or because there were just too many. The Ukrainian military you can see here is the bit that was pushed back. The defenders still holding this bridge stayed hidden, waiting our cameras away from their positions.

On the bridge, the living surreally passing the dead.


WALSH (on camera): They're just saying the Russians are on the other side of the bridge, but you can't see them, but they aren't disturbing civilians.


WALSH (voice over): Anyone who wants to run Ukraine needs this tortured piece of concrete.


WALSH (on camera): This is the Dnieper River which basically cuts Ukraine in two. The side here, which connects to Russia, and this side, which connects to Europe. A vital piece of Ukraine to fight over and it's been obviously very intense here in the past days.


WALSH (voice over): There are no winners here, just holes that will need filling in and shreds of lives that need collecting.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: (Foreign language).


WALSH (voice over): Vladimir is here helping himself to a hot dog. The other Vladimir, Putin, wants to steal lives here whole for his wider vision of empire restored. For the people in this town, it means afternoons with the noise of rockets landing in the streets. At dusk, the balance of power changed again. Shells landed around Ukrainian positions and it seemed now houses.

Ambulances unable to get in, then came this noise, the sound of an attack helicopter. Acute violence that seems to have led the bridge to change hands again. Minutes later, local officials said the city's defenses had fallen. But victory is here and laden with loss and so bitter in the mouth.


WALSH (on camera): We have still, Erin, been hearing the sounds of blast impacts distant to this city still tonight, even amongst this definitely chilling silence, frankly. There is obviously some fighting still going on. It may not be definitive that the Russians are taking that key bridge, but it is very important. They even have intermittent control because we think that last night when they did have that moment where it was in their hands, a lot of troops passed over some seem to have gone east towards (inaudible), some seem to have gone west as well and that will be deeply troubling I think for those trying to defend Kyiv at this moment. There is possibly another route from the south that could assist with that onslaught. Erin?

BURNETT: Yes. Thank you so much, Nick. When you think about it, all of those howitzers, artillery coming over the border near Kharkiv, all of those troops coming in where you are amphibious troops coming, there are so many troops and so much equipment that has come into this country that nobody actually knows where it is right now, but it's here and it's going somewhere and it's going to do something and that is what's contributing to just this palpable sense of fear that is everywhere.

The next, the breaking news reports of heavy fighting right now in Kyiv. We're also going to take you to a small town that is now just packed, overwhelmed with refugees after being hit by missiles.

Plus, Biden sanctions Putin.


Well, it's a nice headline, but does it mean anything to the Russian president?

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) BURNETT: Breaking news. You are looking at live pictures of Kyiv as

we learn heavy fighting is being reported now 20 miles south of the capital. We talked about approaches from the north and now from the south. So, we're hearing that from the south.

Ukrainian armed forces say Russian forces are advancing towards the capital, also from the north and the east.

And the Ukrainian military also tonight claiming that it shot down a Russian transport aircraft, an Ilyushin 76, in the past few hours. I want to be clear that our crews on the ground have not been able to confirm that claim.

Sam Kiley is OUTFRONT. He is in a town in central Ukraine that came under attack today.

And, Sam, you were there. You saw this. Tell me what happened and where -- what you're seeing now.

SAM KILEY, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Erin, I'm in Kropyvntskyi, which is about 160 miles, 200 kilometers south of Kyiv, the capital. It's a town normally of about 250,000 people, but it's now absolutely crammed with refugees, particularly from Kyiv, but from much further to the west of the -- around east of the country.


And that is because people have been packing up and moving in whole communities in the long drive that we had coming over here. There were groups of people forming themselves into civilian convoys to try to stick together for the long trek, possibly out of the country, possibly just to safety further west.

It's very difficult to figure out where is safe in Ukraine at the moment. This city is deep into the interior but it's also the headquarters of the third Special Forces brigade, of the Ukrainian army and almost inevitably, therefore, a target for the Russian air force.

Now the issue will be whether or not it becomes a target for some kind of ground invasion. It's a long way to come from Kyiv or from Kharkiv, even further perhaps from movement to the south. But people are coalescing here in enormous numbers.

Earlier on, rather late last night, it's now in the small hours of the morning, but late last night we went to a small hotel here that was accommodating 500 people. And we asked what kind of extra premium people were paying for rooms. The receptionist said money is worthless here, completely worthless. They were doing everything they could to try to accommodate people.

While we were talking, more or less, a huge bus-full of refugees turned up. It had been driving around the town looking for somewhere to offload its charges before returning to where it came from to pick up yet more. Of course, people are pouring out of Kyiv, too, on trains with their lights turned down so that they can't be attacked from the air, Erin.

BURNETT: Yeah, lights turned down on those trains and people sort of hanging from the outsides and just the desperate rush to get west and out of the country.

Sam, thank you.

BURNETT: I want to go to Evelyn Farkas. She's the former U.S. deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia.

And Steve Hall, our national security analyst, and the former CIA chief of Russia operations. Both of you with us throughout all of this coverage.

And, Evelyn, you just heard Sam talk about the devastation that Russian forces brought to central Ukraine. As she said, deep in the heart of the country. There are obviously crucial military installations where he is but deep in the heart of the country. What is Putin's actual end game? What is his mission?

EVELYN FARKAS, FORMER U.S. DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF DEFENSE FOR RUSSIA, UKRAINE & EURASIA: Yeah, I mean, Erin, his end game, online is obviously, is to Ukraine. And he feels he has to decapitate the government. So he's either going to kill, capture or force President Zelensky to flee, and then put his own person in there, somebody reliable who will do what the Kremlin wants. And that's his end game.

Now how he gets there and how many lives are lost in the meantime, that's an open question. He can withdraw his forces once he has a government that he deems reliable. But as many people have pointed out, there will be ongoing fighting because the Ukrainians are just not going to sit down and roll over.


Steve, so Putin gave an address today. In this address, he was very animated, leaning forward, much more animated than normal, talking fast. And he told Ukrainians not to let, quote, neo-Nazis use your children, wives and old people as human shields.

First of all, that is a clear justification for killing civilians. You're saying if the other side fights against you, then you have a right to kill their families. Okay, it's horrific.

I know you are concerned about his mind. Tell me why. What do you see when you hear him, these words and see his body language now, Steve?

STEVE HALL, CNN NATIONAL SECURITY ANALYST: You know, Erin , it's really difficult, obviously, to read Putin, even under the best of circumstances. And I don't think anybody wants to be an arm chair psychologist, me included.

But nevertheless, there's some data points which I don't think we should be ignoring. It started with Macron from France saying he saw a different Putin and then as you alluded to, this speech he gave, coupled with the rant he gave, you know, a couple of days ago. Some have speculated this is isolation, whether it's because of COVID

or other reasons. I speculate that one of the reasons might be as Evelyn was alluding to, what happens after he, quote, unquote, wins the ground war, the conventional war? What is he going to do?

And I think that's probably weighing on his mind because he remembers what Ukraine's history was. Last time he thought he had a secure pro- Russian guy in charge of Ukraine, it didn't work out well because there was the Maidan which threw -- the Ukrainians rose up and threw him out. He also remembers Afghanistan and he knows the difficulty of doing counterinsurgency and how hard that is on an occupying force.

So those things are weighing on him quite a bit as well, not to mention sanctions and other things which I think are going to impact the oligarchs which, of course, do have some sort of -- not going to say control over Putin, but he has to worry about the oligarchs, and as the sanctions start to bite, that is weighing on his mind. He's got a lot going on.

It doesn't surprise me that he's feeling a little stress.

BURNETT: So, Evelyn, one of the -- it's not a long-term thing but a short-term thing people hope for is some sort of a cease-fire and a calm that can give a chance for there to be a political solution to this that involves not all this horrible death and suffering and refugee crisis.

One of Zelensky's advisers tells CNN on that front that Ukraine is considering a proposal to hold talks with Russia. And the Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia is ready to send a delegation to Belarus to meet with Ukrainian officials. That may be a nonstarter.

Do you think Putin is actually ready for any sort of talks, Evelyn?

FARKAS: He's ready for talks with Zelensky after Zelensky gives up his post. I mean, after he resigns his presidency.

No, I don't think this is a genuine counterproposal. He wants to lure him out of the country? I don't know. Erin, I don't think that he's going to give up right now on his objective which again is to put his puppet into Kyiv and to try to control Ukraine that way.

But I want to add on to something Steve's point, answering your question. Let's not forget that right now, these Russian conscripts, largely conscripts, so young people, are sitting in tanks. Once they get out of those tanks, they'll be speaking a common language with the Ukrainian people and they're going to suddenly feel like, wait, why am I shooting at his grandma?

So Putin may be also trying to provide a counter-narrative to what these soldiers are going to hear on the ground, like we don't want war with you.

BURNETT: Right. And, of course, they have so much in common, right? Those linguistic and cultural ties that are so important, despite their, obviously, being two separate political entities. Steve, we're seeing some public opposition to this war from high-

profile Russian athletes. And I've never seen this before. Russian tennis player writes on a TV camera after his match in Dubai today, quote, no war, please.

A Russian hockey player who plays in the United States joined him in that statement.


ALEX OVECHKN, WASHINGTON CAPITALS CAPTAIN: Please, no more war. It doesn't matter who is in the war, Russia, Ukraine, different countries. I think we live in the world like -- we have to live in peace.


BURNETT: This comes as the daughter of the Kremlin spokesman Peskov, who has been the person most associated with Putin, for decades, forefront of defending the war, being sanctioned by Europe. She comes out and posts an anti-war message on her verified Instagram account that says no to war. A couple hours later that post is gone, deleted.

But nonetheless that's obviously what she feels. You've got those athletes publicly saying this. We have never seen this before, Steve.

HALL: Yeah, it's really interesting phenomenon. There's a couple of things I'd say. The first is, if you're outside of Russia, like Alex Ovechkin who plays hockey, it's a little easier. Of note, Alex Ovechkin also a couple of years ago had his very pro-Putin website so take that into consideration as well.

But let's -- you cut to the chase. The Russians have excellent intelligence services. When this sort of thing starts happening, when you start getting pushback from Russians against the Russian government, the security services take note.

So again, if you're outside of Russia, it's a little easier to do that. But everybody has ties back to Russia. Everybody's got grandmas back in Russia. Maybe money back in Russia.

And the Russian intelligence services will give very little room. They give a little bit of room because it's actually in Putin's advantage. It's in Russia's -- it's an advantage for them to allow a little bit of distance to make it look like there's a voice out there, semi- democracy. They'll say it's full democracy. Those people will be shut down.

But it is interesting to see this. It's kind of the first time, especially Peskov's daughter is really a standout, but as you noted, that was taken down pretty quickly, whether by her or the security services, we just don't know.

BURNETT: No, we just don't know but it's incredible she posted it.

Thank you both very much. And next, Biden planning to impose sanctions on Putin himself. Now we

know that Putin, Panama Papers and others, billions and billions and billions, you know, just like you'd get by being a politician your whole life, right? Well, how will this move by the White House actually affect Vladimir Putin?

Plus, with so much suffering here and fear and anxiety, I stumbled across a cafe today because everything is closed. One place open -- a place that gave me and everyone in it a reason to smile for just a few moments.



BURNETT: Breaking news: The U.S. sanctioning Vladimir Putin. It's an escalation to impose penalties on Russia for invading Ukraine. The U.S. also targeting more Russian officials, including the foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, who does enjoy spending time outside Russia, and the Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu.

It comes as "Forbes" is estimating that Russian billionaires have lost $126 billion in wealth in just the past few days after the invasion.

OUTFRONT now, Luisa Kroll. She's the executive editor at "Forbes."

So, Luisa, Putin's wealth is a massive mystery. His technical salary is $140,000 a year. We know, obviously, that he is worth billions. How many billions, nobody knows. Some have said he's probably the richest person in the world. Panama Papers have exposed much of this.

One thing they really exposed is nobody knows what he really has and where the money really is.

So, when they say sanctioning Vladimir Putin, what does it really mean?

LUISA KROLL, EXECUTIVE EDITOR, FORBES: Well, I think you bring up an excellent point. It means it's going to be very, very difficult for anybody to really get ahold of that money. I mean, some people have theories that he has dealt with all the oligarchs in Russia, they give him 50 percent and he won't throw them in jail.


It's just going to be very hard to have anything happen in terms of the sanctions and having an impact on him.

BURNETT: So you did the math, right? The oligarchs have felt a lot of pain in the past few days, but when you're worth $30 billion and then you're worth $15 billion, as happened during the financial crisis, okay. So they lead lavish lifeless, they have the boats, mansions, the yachts. Their kids go to the private schools in the U.S. and London.

None of this have been taken away from them, not a single one on your list. So, what's going on? KROLL: It's going to be very hard. A lot of these are held offshore.

They actually love times when they sell their assets. They immediately turn it into U.S. dollars and they immediately move it offshore. I've been doing this for many years and this has been a theme for well more than a decade.

They don't hold it in Russia. They don't hold it in rubles. They move it away so that people can't get access to it, and that's always been true, even along before sanctions. So I think it'll be very difficult.

Now, I have heard a lot about them putting pressure on the families, and if you do have a child in a private school in the U.S., that could become difficult. And I think that that might be more of the effective route. In white honestly, my source is Russia says it doesn't even matter. This will just get Putin angrier and then none of these oligarchs will be willing to stand up to him.

BURNETT: Well, it's important to hear that. I know people wish that was not what you're hearing. It's important to know it. Lisa, thank you.

And our breaking news continues. As we said, the next few hours will decide the fate of Kyiv, the capital of this country. We'll take you back to Kyiv where tonight a series of explosions were just heard by our Matthew Chance. We're going to go right back there.

In the midst of the fear and uncertainty here, I found a store open. And the owners told me that no matter what, they are staying, and they're staying because those cats.


BURNETT: Breaking news: vowing not to surrender. Ukraine's ambassador to the United Nations with that message to Russia after a failed U.N. Security Council vote to condemn the invasion of Ukraine. This as there's heavy fighting being reported at this hour, 2:00 a.m. hour in Kyiv as President Zelensky warns the fate of Ukraine is being decided right now.

I want to go back to Matthew Chance who's on the ground in Kyiv.

So, Matthew, this heavy fighting where you are, we obviously heard you from a few moments ago and I know you think things were going to move quickly. So what is the scene now?

MATTHEW CHANCE, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: We've still not seen a push on the capital yet, but, of course, it's still early in the evening here, there's still plenty of time for that to happen.


I will tell you, though, within the past few minutes, it's been -- the Ukrainian defense ministry has said that they have shot down a Russian transport plane, an Ilyushin 76, a big aircraft. What the defense ministry says is it was carrying Russian paratroopers. Now, I have to stress, even so, the officials confirmed this to us and

put it on their official website, but we haven't seen evidence of it and we haven't corroborated it. Of course, it would be a significant develop that we want to sort of kind of add some caveats to that. But it is what the Ukrainian defense ministry is currently saying.

Meantime, we are still hearing occasional rumblings in the area right behind me. Obolon is a suburb of Kyiv. We know there are concentrations of Russian armor and forces. There's also that military air base that has been taken by Russian special forces, and the expectation still tonight is that there will be a push either tonight or within the next several hours or next several days on the city of Kyiv and the population and the authorities here are bracing for it, Erin.

BURNETT: Matthew, thank you very much.

And next, they said we will never leave Ukraine. Love for their cats keeping one couple in this country, willing to be in harm's way.


BURNETT: The streets were almost deserted, nothing was open. Restaurants that were busy last week were totally shuttered. And after filming around the city, I went out to get lunch for our team.

After half an hour of walking, the only place I saw open was the cat cafe. Inside was a family clearly fleeing the Russian invasion. They had giant backpacks, all kinds of blankets on them, wearing as many layers of clothing as possible, but they were smiling because they saw the cat wheel.

You cannot look at that and not smile. Today any human being in this country needed the gift of a smile. Turns out there were 20 cats in the cafe, the owners told me. Beautiful, well-behaved cats.

Why was the cafe open when everything else was closed and people here are so on edge and afraid? The owner's wife said because if we go, no one will feed our cats. We will never leave Ukraine.

They stayed because they love their pets. It made me realize that people stay for so many different reasons. To me, the couple who stays because of their love for their cats, it was just a small ray of brightness on what was for all of us here a pretty sobering and dark day.

Thanks so much for joining us. Our breaking news coverage continues now with "AC360."